In the summer of 1984, my dad showed me a scrapbook he had made as a young man. As a born and bred Wiganer, he loved his rugby. He had created the book detailing a full season of events and matches involving the Wigan RL club. I think it was from around the mid fifties, when legendary Welsh winger Billy Boston was in his prime. The photos were all black and white from the local newspaper, but he had hand coloured them with pencil, and the cherry hoops of the Wigan shirt gave the photos an almost 3D effect.
So, immediately Inspired by this, I decided I needed to do the same as this newly formed tradition had to be upheld, and went to get a scrap book. I found an A4 John Dickinson Cuttings book, ring bound with thick pinkish cartridge paper pages. Book acquired, I was ready for the season.
I was in my second year of college then, at Runshaw in Leyland. I was studying three A-levels, Maths, Geography and Computer Science. I say studying, most of the time was spent playing 5-a-side football in the gym and thinking of excuses to give to Mr Hankin, the maths lecturer, for my non-attendance each week. The other two were a good laugh, Steve Bagshaw was a pussy cat in Geography and Computer Science was great as you could just play games on the CBM PET computers-very rudimentary versions of Pacman, Pong and Space Invaders etc. So here it is, a haphazard, hazy diary to my biggest season yet watching Blackburn Rovers.
August, September 1984.
The season started at Crystal Palace, a draw 1-1. I didn't go, and there is no report or mention of it in the scrap book. I was doing the numbers in the score box at Chorley Cricket club that week, and had to settle for a transistor radio in the box, with Jack Holden summing things up with his usual one-eyed view for me.
A week later, a home game against Carlisle. I remember us dominating the match, and winning four-nil in an easy romp. I stood on the Blackburn End, near the old bar at the back. Seems a bit bizarre now looking back, that the terrace behind the goal should have a little cafe type kiosk tucked up at the rear of home end, selling beer! It had women and kids serving in it, and service was a little poor. Pies and crisps also sold, so not much changes really does it? I didn't drive, and used to get either the Tom Jackson coach from Chorley market, or sometimes the Cliff Owen coach-can't remember if they operated at the same time or if one replaced the other, but again it does seem a little odd today that a coach firm would operate a service from Chorley to Ewood just for the match, a journey of around seven and a half miles. It used to get quite full some days too.
According to "The BOOK", the next two matches were away at Huddersfield on a Tuesday night, and away at Fulham on the Saturday. I say according to as I have no recollection of the games at all, and there is no cutting out of the report stuck in there either. It does say that we got a 1-1 draw at London Road, and lost by the odd goal in five at the Cottage. This was early September time, so it was quite possible that I was actually trying a bit a college at this stage, in the misguided hope that I could actually do well in my A levels and get good grades and go to University. I actually went to an open day at the University of North London. I was hoping to do a Geology degree, and at the time this looked the most likely destination for me (easiest grades, good reputation for Geology courses, near Spurs and Arsenal...). I got the Inter City down for the day, but predictably ended up in the University common room, watching England v Turkey in a world cup qualifier I think, drinking cheap cans of lager. Looked a bit like a scene left out of The Young Ones. I would think it was probably around this time that I went actually, maybe I went to the Fulham game but blocked it from my memory so as to avoid mental scarring for life (If this is true, it didn't work).
Anyway, next match was Grimsby at home. A good game I recall, as Rovers started to get into their stride. Always have been slow starters Rovers, but I think Chris Thompson got at least one maybe two and we set off on an amazing winning streak now that ran for six matches. Cardiff at home midweek (2-1) and Notts County away (3-0) saw Rovers climb to third by late September with Wimbledon up next at Ewood.
By now college work was definitely taking a back seat as interest getting to Ewood became my number one priority.
INSERT WIMBLEDON PHOTO.
So our league form was improving, and late September saw our 2nd round tie in the League Cup. Our opponents were Oxford United, managed by ex-Ewood boss Jim Smith. Oxford were on the verge of a real purple period, and at the time were the form team in the 2nd division. Some of the players they had went onto bigger and better things, some had achieved better and bigger things, as they say, including Dave Langan, John Trewick, Malcolm Shotton, John Aldridge, Trevor Hebberd and former dingle Billy Hamilton. We ended up playing Oxford five times this season, more to follow on these further encounters.
As usual, the league cup was over two legs, Rovers at home in the first leg. As I recall, we fairly battered them and went in front, scorer unknown. Oxford scored a late-ish equalizer, that left a bad taste in the mouth. As I walked up the LBR, I said to Big Bill Gornall, who had driven us in his Ford Escort to the match, that I vowed to go to the second leg at Oxford and we would batter them on and off the park. I was furious we hadn't sewn the tie up on the night.
Saw a regulation 3-1 home win over Shrewsbury, a team we seemed to play about four times a season in them days.
"Who do we play next week?"
Second leg of the league cup tie at Oxford. I didn't go in the end, no money and no transport being the usual sticking points on a long midweek away trip. We lost the second leg 3-1 I think, but it was in extra time. Billy bloody Hamilton got at least two, maybe even a hat trick. Billy had been playing in the World cup in 1982 in Spain, I think he laid on the cross for Armstrong’s winner against the hosts. Noel Brotherston was there too though, as a Rovers representative.
Then on the 13th October, a trip to St Andrews to take on the top of the table side, Birmingham City. Birmingham had been relegated in the previous season from top flight, the newly sponsored Canon League Division One. They were on the slide big time, but were still generally thought of as a big club, and had some decent players. Dave Seaman, Mick Harford, Martin Kuhl-all household names at the time (well maybe in Birmingham) and Ron Saunders had been in charge since 1982.
Again, lack of funds wouldn't allow me to go to Birmingham-it was a choice between paying Paul Astley travel services a few quid and probably getting me head kicked in by the Zulus or finally coughing up for the Smiths first album. Either way I was likely to end up in tears, so chose the musical option and listened to the match on the radio. Birmingham did well in the end this season, but it will spoil the ending if I tell you that they finished above us.
The 2-0 win meant Rovers were now second in the league, Things were getting quite interesting now. Readers who may find the first part of the season boring, don't give up-it gets really exciting later on.
We played Oldham at home. And drew 1-1. I have absolutely no recollection of the day, the match or even what I had for dinner, (which is unusual, although it was probably a bunch of meat pies from the pie shop on Gillibrand Street in Chorley, SW confectioners, still there and sells fantastic pies and bread, as well as sandwiches too at very low prices. If you go in at around 1pm (don't leave it any later, they sell out by then and close by 2pm) they will virtually give you stuff for free rather than see it wasted-three pies for under 90p I think is my personal best, I may even have got a cake thrown in (my memory is not what it used to be (it used to better, and before that I can't recall))(see I told you ). My dad used to do the shopping on a Saturday morning and bring us pies to eat for lunch (I say us I mean me and my dad) and the meat ones were great-none of this BSE scaremongering then, meat certainly did not harm your brain, or even your memory( my memory is not what it used to be you know) back then. I scoffed them whilst watching football focus, and inevitably the hot jelly would run out and make a mess in my hands.
Next match, was away at Maine Road. I was up for this one, a proper big ground and a big crowd likely. To use away travel, there was I think an official supporters club, run by East Lancs travel overlord Paul Astley. To sign up, you had to go to the Townley Arms on Park Road in Chorley, pay your £2 or whatever and you were on the bus. Not unusual really but this gives me the opportunity to recall the Townley Arms. Now closed, I think it was a Matthew Brown pub (Selling Slalom D), but the best thing about it was that you buy a pint of milk on draught. Seriously, one of the pumps was attached to a milk barrel and they would hand pull a pint of milk for you. And every room had what seemed like a 500 watt Osram bulb in, no ambient lighting here.
So anyway, on the Saturday the coach arrives in Moss Side. The away section was about quarter of the Kippax, and a bit of the open terrace that ran round toward the Platt Lane end. And there was the rather fearful walk along the back of the Platt Lane down a narrow alley way which, if I didn't know better, and to be honest I don't, appeared to be tailor made by the local hooligans to allow easy access to the travelling army of visiting supporters. Quite a nervy stretch that was.
As was the case most years, the atmosphere in the Kippax was excellent, if a little malevolent. Missiles were regularly thrown over the thin bit of no mans land, and the Police never bothered at all. During the match, City went ahead via a John Lowey own goal. Lowey, a decent enough 2nd division pro, was in a terrible run of form and this really didn't help. He had only just accepted the role of crowd scapegoat, (from Kevin Stonehouse) and it was definitely affecting his game.
Two-nil down in half an hour and it looked possible that the previous years 6-0 tubbing could be repeated. But immediately we got one back. Noel Brotherston notching from the edge of the box. The rest of the match saw us huff and puff, Lowey doing the huffing and Garner the puffing, but there was to be no equalizer. At full time, the only two challenges that remained were to get out of the Kippax via the worlds smallest exit door, without getting squashed to death and then the 400 metre dash down the back alley to the coaches, hopefully which would still be in one piece, or least drivable away-able.
The defeat saw us slip out of the top three, and into fourth. I got home and dreamt of pie.
We were away at the Manor Ground to take on the league leaders.
The previous season saw Oxford united promoted to the second division, storming to the old division three title with 95 points, and along the way giving the big boys a good game in the cups. Indeed, arguably the most successful team of the mid 1980s often refer to their lucky escape at the Manor Ground in a cup match as the turning point in their history. Everton needed a late equalizer to take the U’s back to Goodison, from which the Scousers went on to win, leading to a true purple patch in their history.
I didn't go to the match, reason unknown-probably suffering from Rovers syndrome-one defeat and supporters turn their back on the club for letting them down again, never to return till they win the European Cup or similar. I ended up playing snooker at a Liverpool supporting friend’s house, Keith Riley on Walgarth Drive. Sounds impressive , but the snooker table was a 5 foot by 2 foot midgets table, and if the cue ball was anywhere near the edge, you had to unscrew the cues and use the front half only as the walls were too close to the table. Plus he had a little yappy dog that used round around the house all the time and bark like mad when the radio Lancs reporter came on to give updates on Rovers and you couldn't hear what he said! I wouldn't be surprised if the dog did those white turds that you never see anymore too.
Anyway, after marathons break of nearly nine (IE eight, one red and a black that was hanging over the middle pocket) we hear Oxford are one up. Well that’s what we thought as The Turd Machine barked again. So reason number two for going to Keith’s house (number one being luxurious Olympic sized Snooker table) was his Finlandia colour TV had teletext on. But the updates had not got up to today’s super slick speeds, so we were still a little in the dark. We had to wait till the 70th minute for an update, when we clearly heard Garner has equalized from the edge of the box. That would have done me, 1-1 at Oxford would be a decent result. But typically of this season, that man Billy Hamilton, who scored the opener notched a last minute winner. Once a Dingle, always a Dingle. The report reckons we were worth a point, and only three league matches ended up in anything other than a win for Oxford at home that season. So we were doing alright.
Above the Nuttall Street stand (Now the Jack Walker stand) was a little shed. Most of the time this shed was closed. But the Brighton match was different, the shed doors were open! This meant the cameras were here, and we would be on the telly! There were very few games on TV in those days, and it was a real privilege to be featured. At the time, the thought was that the BBC must think we were a decent proposition to put on, doing well in the league, playing some decent football and so on. But looking back, with a de rigueur Blackburn fans now fully developed sense of paranoia and no-one likes us mentality it is obvious that they only came to see the Brighton. And more specifically Frank Worthington who was contracted to the seagulls at the time.
I was stood in my usual spot on the Blackburn End, watching a fairly tame affair when I witnessed one of the best goals of the season. A Rovers attack saw I think Garner see his first shot saved by Graham Moseley in the Brighton goal, and the rebound went out wide on the left of the goal from were I was stood. Garner raced round onto the ball, and with it looking like it may even go out of play for a corner the number 10 flashed his left foot at it and it flew into the back of the net. It actually never touched the back of the net, just the inside the side netting the angle was so tight. Bobby Saxton's comments in the report further reflect the finishers quality. The matched was sealed by Colin Randell's late second and Rovers were back on to winning ways.
I wonder how many stunning goals like this were never seen by anyone but the crowd on the day? TV coverage of today means you never miss a minute of any game, although the merits of this I for one are not 100% convinced by.
This win was the beginning of another superb run of results, a sequence that saw us win seven out of eight games, taking us right into Christmas and right into title contention.
Once again the mode of transport featured the official Rovers coach. In November it gets dark quite early. We arrived at around 2 O'clock and it had already got dark in Teeside. I guess it's like the North Pole where some days the sun never gets up. Ayresome Park was the venue, Ayresome Park-NOT SUITABLE FOR GIRLS it should have been called. It was a bit rough up there.
It was raining at the ground. A kind of light misty rain, infused with 30 years of pollution from the North Easts industrial endeavours. We were supposed to sit in the VEE shaped open terrace between the end and the side.
But as there were a lot of us travelling up, and the fat they felt sorry for us they let us under the roofed bit that ran behind the goal. It was seated, not terraced too-it was a luxury back then (says Grandad) .
The roof gave wonderful acoustics, a bit like the Darwen End used to and made for a wonderful atmosphere. The match report alludes to this too. Rovers went two goals in front, Tommo and an own goal by the wonderfully named Irving Nattrass. David Mills got one back for them, but we hung on to the 2-1 win. The best bit though for me was the Noel Brotherston incident, as it became known. Noel was red carded after two bookables, and as he left the pitch he got a load of jip from the home supporters. So as he goes down the tunnel, Broth-Head gives them the Vees. I loved Noel, he was my hero for a time (When Garner was crap). The away match programmes ALWAYS described him as the "Mercurial Irishman". Terry Gennoe was always referred to as The Intelligent one as I think he had got a degree with the Open University.
So Saxton does his nut, and accompanies him to Lancaster Gate for the disciplinary hearing. Bob gets him off by telling the FA he was merely indicating the score at the time!
I think I traveled up with Mick Ingram, from Brinscall-used to be a handy footballer and also played Cricket for Chorley and Brinscall too I recall. Got back to Chorley in reasonable time, and ended up very drunk, supping pints of Sass in the Swann With Two Knecks till late. Sass made you puke. And the puke would be purple.
With Pompey and Oxford drawing, the win put us back to 2nd spot.
The evening before, I bought a copy of the Lancashire Evening Post. You couldn't get the Telegraph in Chorley in them days, remember rationing had only just finished round here. It is mainly a North End rag, but bowed to Rovers obvious greater attraction and had reports and articles in on a fairly regular basis.
The game this week was at home against Charlton Athletic. Along with Crystal Palace, we seem to have played them more than any other team.
A win would mean if other results went our way, we could be top of the league. Saxtons approach was one of caution-"It looks like it could be very tight." Bob was quoted in the paper. Now bearing in mind the state of the Ewood bank balance, or indeed the snugness of footballers shorts in the 1980s he could have been alluding to several things there. But, alas, he was merely expressing his concern over the quality of the forthcoming opposition.
But his fears were misplaced so it seems, as the Rovers outplayed the SE7 based side and ran out 3-0 winners. Sadly, no report or even scorers can be found
Sheffield United home. This was a game I clearly remember, at a time when legendary marksman Simon Garner was going through a lean spell, and his form was a little patchy. Legend that he is, Saxton was obviously reluctant to drop him as as he could conjure up a goal out of nothing and save a point when all seemed lost, and three when all seemed drawn.
Big money summer signing (£32,000) from Swindon Town Jimmy Quinn was chomping at the bit on the bench, and had already shown signs of unrest at his role in the dugout most weeks. But, as the headline indicates his time was now, and his short appearance against the Blades was most effective.
Without getting all dewy eyed over the good old days, excitement like I felt at winning this match doesn't seem to come along much any more, and despite views on the state of the English game back then, one cannot help feel a strong sense of nostalgia and a yearning for a return whilst looking back and reading the reports from thirty years ago.
The points were not enough to keep us top however, as Oxford won 5-0 at home to Charlton to move past us on goal difference.
Last point, this match was the biggest crowd of the season so far, just over 9,000!
I had waited all year long for the predictions of George Orwell, in his book entitled 1984, to come true. As the end of the year approached, it began to dawn on me that the Big Brother scenario, which he depicted, nay promised would happen, was not going to. I mean, there were only sixteen days left in the year, and even with my eternally optimistic outlook and faith in the great writer’s predictions, I had resigned myself to more of Thatcher’s iron-fist-in-a-bloody hard-iron-glove style of leadership.
Next up for the blues was a trip to Wolves. I did not make the journey to the Molineux, as I was trying to tape my UK Subs singles all day but struggled, as I kept on pogo-ing when they were playing, and it made the needle jump off the record. But I had the old Radio Blackburn guy on in the background, and they were good enough to relay the events back to me in my studio in Chorley. Ah, technology eh?
From the two reports, it sounded like a cruddy game, (not much has changed ), but the previously perma-benched Jimmy Quinn staked his claim for a starting role by bagging a pair. The Radio guy in the studio was playing Dizzy by Tommy Roe, and as the third went in he actually interrupted the record and came out with the line.” Well I bet Bob Saxton is feeling dizzy now as Blackburn have gone three up against Wolves, over to you Keith Macklin!".
The three points saw us back on top of the table, with a trip up the M6 next week for infamous day at Brunton Park.
The Saturday before Christmas saw the relatively short trip up the M6 the Carlisle. I got of lift with Gordon Cottam, Bill Gornall and Rob Bennett I think, in Rob's white Escort RS2000. Which made short work of the motorway, as Rob liked to get a move on shall we say. Parked near the castle, and remember seeing tons and tons of cars going north with Rovers flags and scarves trailing from the wound up windows of them. If you were hard, you wound down your window put your scarf in then wound it up again and ran the risk of it blowing out down the motorway. The soft gits just laid their scarves along the back parcel shelf!
Carlisle holds the honour of being the first place I ever bought and ate a Doner Kebab too, as we had supped a shed load of cans in the journey up and the only place open for grub on a Sunday was a kebab shop we found.
The match it self was won 1-0 by Rovers, Faz scoring a penalty in the second half I think. But the game will be remembered for other reasons really, as the whole game saw running battles between the two sets of supporters on the pitch, across the pitch and behind the stands. Sadly, one such battle saw a Carlisle supporter suffer fatal wounds when hit by some bricks or similar.
The away following from Blackburn was huge that day, and the atmosphere was ugly all day long, really the nadir of 80s football violence for watching Rovers I think.
I had just turned 18, and after only one day of playing Raving Bonkers, eating Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and turkey drier than Saharan heatwave, loosing at Top Trumps (Elite Cars) and having already worn the battery out on my new LCD watch that played The Yellow Rose Of Texas as the alarm theme, I was ready for some football.
This year the bank holiday game was Leeds at home. They were just below us in the table, 5th going into the game. They were still getting used to life outside the top flight, after winning titles and cups galore under Revie in the 70s, but had slipped away in recent times, much to the disappointment of the rest of the football fraternity.
Indeed, some of the great names were still at the club, in Frank Gray and Peter Lorimer, whilst they were managed by Eddie Gray too. Not sure, but I think that nearly every great Leeds player from the 70s has had a go at managing the club at some point!. They also had two skilful midfield players in Tommy Wright and wanna-be Rover Scott Sellars.
If asked my favourite games of this season, I think this would have to be up there in the top three. There was so much to be excited about by it. Leeds United at home was in those days a big match in itself, the fact that it would be (and was) a massive crowd by recent standards, some 20,149 (according to the reports-Reckon there were much more on myself), an absolutely brilliant atmosphere, a ding dong match, two superb goals from Rovers, including what from my memory was a stunning overhead kick from the edge of the box into the Blackburn End net to win it from Colin Randell, the fact that the three points took us clear at the top of league-an absolutely superb game of football, having almost everything you would want in a match.
INSERT NOELS HEADER
Anyway, after the glory and joy of the Boxing Day feast against Leeds, it was, as has always been the case by and large with Rovers, back to reality with a bang with the next fixture with Huddersfield. I remember the match as being the worst performances of the season (So far, it did get worse at one point...).
Rovers were murdered by an average Town outfit, but recall Dale Tempest as being a particular thorn in the side of apparently hungover Rovers back four. Rovers were missing Terry Gennoe in goal, and had one of the Ewood crowds hate figure in Vince O'Keefe as his stand in. Poor Vince had a ropey season, and often took flak when he didn't really deserve it. Mind you that’s not unusual at Ewood.
Town brought a big following, I think the total on was 15,000 odd and created a good atmosphere under the old covered Darwen End. I was always a little peeved by the fact the Blackburn roof, whilst although I think it held the distinction of being one of the first fully cantilevered roofs in the country, did not help the home end acoustics. The design was made to allow uninterrupted views of the pitch, which it did, but it did make it a little cold in the wind and rain and allowed the singing from the home fans to dissipate quickly into the air. The Darwen End, with it's low inverted Vee shaped roof always seemed to allow even small away followings to generate a lot of noise, which annoyed me a little bit.
The 3-1 scoreline to Town flattered us to be honest, we were awful. It was our first defeat since early November in a run of seven wins and a draw, but we managed to stay top of the league. For now.
The first day of the New Year, January 1st came. It was (and still is) called New Years Day. Cannot remember what kind of state I was in, probably not too bad as I managed to get my arse sufficiently enough in to gear to get on the official coach from the Flat Iron to make the relatively short journey to the Peoples Republic Of South Yorkshire-Destination Nowhere (Barnsley actually). In fact I pretty much recall the bus was the one used on the photo of the Pretty Vacant single, which actually had Nowhere as the official destination on the front.
My packed lunch, was two packets of Ritz Crackers left over from Christmas, the ones in the red boxes. Delicious, if a little dry. Nobody missed them.
On arriving at the coach park, disembarking on what appeared to be a slag heap, the first thing I noticed was the temperature. It was cold, very very cold. Probably about 7 degrees lower than when we set off in Lancs. A short walk off the heap led us to the entrance to the away end at Oakwell, which also seemed to be built on a slag heap. There was a small hut type thing, built just above the away end, which looked like the sort of thing building site workers would have their tea breaks in. Probably enough room for three wheelchairs and a brazier. Earlier that season, Leeds had played here and they had started trouble with the home fans, and began with missiles being thrown at the disabled hutch. Classy stuff.
The terrace was just open concrete at one end of the ground, similar to Boundary Park, in both construction and warmth levels. A fairly boring match, lit up by Noels beauty of an opening goal and a flood light failure. You wouldn't have thought it possible, that Barnsley was the birth place of the Switch The Floodlights Off And Win Lots Of Money In An Asian Betting Scandal, but these were strange times the mid 1980s, the height of Thatcherism, and the denouement of the Coal Mines as a Nationalised industry. But the Tykes were bang at it long before your West Hams and your Charltons.
Noels goal was a classic. Picking the ball up on the wide left, near the touch line, he jinked past a couple of defenders, and unleashed a curler right into the top corner. Every bit as good as a Damian Duff,
Barnsley equalised with a penalty a bit later, though I don't really remember much about it to be honest.
There was a good sized following from Rovers that day, indeed we took plenty everywhere in those days. Some great days out and adventures were had. You got to see plenty of familiar faces each trip. Where's Wimberley now though eh?
With the league position looking very healthy, it came to the day in the year that most media types often refer to as the most exciting day in the football calendar. Yes of course, it was the Annual Alan Hardacre memorial lunch at Lancaster Gate. Also, it was the FA Cup 3rd round day too.
An away tie at Portsmouth's Fratton Park. Portsmouth were promotion rivals to us this, meaning that both domestic cup competitions had us playing a team from our division in the shake up for going up. Bit boring really, how about a home tie against Man United for example....
Indeed, the 2nd round of the league cup was a two legged tie with Oxford, FA cup was at Portsmouth, which as you are about to find out was a draw and needed a replay, and then another draw in the next round at Oxford again! So that would be five games against Oxford this season and four against Portsmouth.
I think I went on a service train to the match, setting off at stupid O'clock and arriving at just about half two ish. The station wasn't too far away from the ground , a shortish walk along the front, me trying to not give my accent away by keeping my gob shut. Bit rough down there as I recall.
The weather was very very cold, I remember being concerned as to whether the game may be abandoned at one point, which would be highly un-funny bearing in mind the distance travelled. The away end, as has been the case quite a few times this season, was an open terrace surrounded by cages (and still was until recently too), and from memory about 300 from Lancs turned up.
The game should have been a walk over for Rovers, but I still to this day cannot work out how Chris Thompson missed a open goal from five yards, when he hit the post. He blames the pitch, I blame his general crapness.
I met Chris Thompson on the Isle Of Man latter that summer, he was very humble and agreed when I told him I didn't think he was very good at football. Jim Branagan was with him at the time though, and he had to be held back as he wanted to kill me for the insults. Thommo passed away recently, very sad.
So it was back on the train, back up north and home at midnight, with the replay scheduled for Tuesday.
Back in the league, we had an away trip to Cleethorpes, to play Grimsby Town.
I once again traveled with the official away travel, and we really needed to a win after the loss against Huddersfield and the draw at Barnsley. Although still top of the league, Oxford were now breathing down our necks, speaking metaphorically of course. Nobody needs Jim Smiths warm CO2 lingering around your nape.
A dull game I seem to remember, as the report also reflects (twice) made more memorable by my experience of a Fish Pie pre-match at the ground, the discovery of a football next to the seaside, and a new-ish cute but small grandstand named after the sponsors-The Findus Stand. Made me chuckle that at the time.
The penultimate game of January was the three times postponed FA Cup replay. Against the Portsmouth Tag Wrestling team at Ewood, when the 4th round was being played.
I had a season ticket this year, it was actually a junior one (under 16) and I was now 18. Was a bit tight some weeks, as there was a separate turnstile at the Blackburn End for juniors, and most weeks I got grilled on my age, or at least a squint-eyed close examination. Anyway I got to the ground with my season ticket, and didn't know it was only for league matches and would not allow me entrance to FA cup games, and had no money to pay to get in (was probably only £1.60 but was a student at Runshaw at the time.) I bought the season ticket off a mate, who by the way was under 16 after about three games in the season. It resembled a small book of old school raffle ticket books.
So I am at the ground, with no way of getting in to Ewood to see the match. So for the first and not the last time, I made my way up the hill to see 28% of the pitch and about 5% of the game from the behind the Riverside.
I remember trying to work out what was happening in the game based on the level of crowd noise , which was pretty hard really due to the lack of acoustics and numbers involved. Vaguely remember seeing Quinns first goal hitting the back of the Blackburn End net.
I cannot really offer any opinion on the match , as I only saw a fraction of it. But Noel Wilds report from the Sunday mirror Edition of January 27th 1985 makes me chuckle. The highlights include the classic line...
"Giant West Indian defender Noel Blake was badly at fault with the first, with the most feeble back -pass I have seen for many a year"
"Portsmouths defence was all at sea and left me alone, and I just whopped the ball hard”..he quotes of Jimmy Quinn.
Of course with all the replays postponementing, it was not very long before we were playing the 4th round. It was four days in fact.
It was back to Oxford again, for a midweek showdown with Jim Smiths outfit (his team, Oxford United, not a polyester suit, bri-nylon shirt and patent leather loafers). Oxford had not lost at home for about 8 years at this point in their history, and it looked like a toughie to most of us. But the motivation was a fifth round tie at home to Manchester United, Big Ron's outfit (more polyester, bri-nylon and even more gold jewelry).
Last season we had played Southampton at home in the 5th round, live on TV ( it may have actually a first for the BBC in some way, cannot remember what it was though, anyone?) and lost to a David Armstrong goal. That was after we had beaten Nottingham Forest in a replay I think, a couple of games (Forest away was an adventure I can tell you...British Rail...Vimto, vodka and porno mags at Crewe Station).
So yea anyway, Oxford away on a Wednesday night. How does one get to Oxford and back for a night game with no car?
Well, let me remind you of the football special. Basically a whole train gets taken over by bevvied up football fans, no other passengers on, cheap as chips, no stopping at any stations, just get on at the Bouley and get off at the opponents station several hours later. From Accrington to Oxford return, total cost £10.
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The journey down on the special was bizarre. I went with a mate from Runshaw, Ricky Johnson. Good little footballer was Ricky, didn't support Rovers but was up for a laugh and so was I. About an hour into the journey, some Rovers fan went totally berserk on the train. I think he just flipped, and started lashing out at anyone and everyone he could, seriously attempting to do some GBH on his co-travelers. Was it the drink? Was it a case of train-based Stir Crazy? It took about five men to restrain him, and they literally had to sit on him for the rest of the journey to Oxford to stop any further madness. I think he got to the match though.
The Manor ground would never win "Sporting Arenas Of Year" award, if such a thing existed. It looked like it was designed by 10 different people, each one putting their own little bit on and then sticking them all together-like that party game were you fold a piece of paper in three, someone does the head, then you fold it up, someone does the body, fold it up then someone does the legs, then you unfold it and you get a picture of a human with a deep sea divers helmet on, wearing a Tutu and legs of a rugby player. And a cats tail protruding from the arse. Imagine Watfords ground now, but worse.
The away end was, once again open terrace, crumbling concrete, caged in on all sides.
The game it self was quite eventful, Billy Hamilton missing the game after doing his leg minutes before the match warming up, then Jimmy Quinn notched a typical header to put us ahead. In the second half, McDonalds penalty was brilliantly saved by Geno, and despite a bit of a battering we hung on to put us in the fifth round to play United.
As I walked back towards the station, I was verbally abused by a Rovers fan who though I was a home supporter-"Cannot win every week can ya you Southern @#/?s!". Didn't bother to put him right, just smiled a bit.
It was a rare match in which we played in all red shirts too. So the win at Oxford meant a home time against Big Ron from Old Swans outfit, Man Utd. Ex Rovers supremo Bill Fox was rubbing his hands at the prospect of a £70K windfall. Without Bills shrewd stewardship during the poverty stricken times at Ewood in the 80s it is highly possible we could have gone out of business I'm sure. RIP Bill.
The second day of February 1985 brought an away trip to Plough Lane. Not only does Plough Lane no longer exist (as a football stadium, and I use the term stadium, and indeed football loosely) but neither do the team we played that day, Wimbledon. The ground was designed as a non league ground to be fair, as Wimbledon's remarkable rise through the English leagues meant they rapidly out grew their modest surroundings. It closed in 1991, with a home defeat to London neighbours Crystal Palace.
The game in South London was not attended by me I'm afraid, cash flow had been drained with the trips to Grimsby and Barnsley so it was just me, Jack Holden and a packet of Salt'N'Shake crisps for the afternoon.
The flourishing Quinn notched another header for Rovers, no idea who scored for the Dons, and remember clearly Simon Barkers indirect free kick being chalked off for not touching anyone before hitting the net (the ball, not Simon).
The draw, in front of less than 4,000 people meant we lost top spot for the first time since early December. Our form was poor, and the pressure appeared to beginning to show.
Next up Fulham at home,. The Cottagers were lying in 8th coming into the game on 38 points. We were second, on 49 points. The upcoming fixture at home in the FA cup against Manchester United was creating some excitement now. We were to play them on the Friday night, live on BBC-1. Never to be outdone, ITV came to Ewood and we were on the Big Match highlights show this weekend.
The crowd at the Fulham game was higher than would normally been expected, this was due to the vouchers being issued at the turnstiles-the voucher guaranteed you priority for a ticket for the United match, which I think was an all ticket game, very rare back then. I think around 12,000 was the official attendance for the Fulham game. My main memories of the win (2-1) were firstly how cold it was-a dry, but bone chilling spell had been around after some heavy snow earlier in the year, causing the pitch to be rock hard. Secondly our first goal, a Jimmy Quinn header-he seemed to jump about 10 feet in the air and bulleted a header in to the net. Chris Thompson scored a tap in for the winner, following a dreadful mix up in the Fulham defence. The win put us back on top of the league again, and in a good mood to meet the Aristocrats from Old Trafford next week.
Rovers line up for the Fulham game-
Gennoe Branagan Keeley Faz Rathbone Brotherston Barker Randell Miller Thompson Quinn
The Fulham line up had ex Blackpool keeper Ian Hesford, Leroy Rosenior and Ray Lewington, and were managed by Ray Harford.
Sunday morning saw a large crowd at Ewood Park, as the tickets for United went on sale, and the queues snaked all along Kidder Street, as the faithful waited patiently for the precious green bits of paper. Once you had purchased the ticket, you could go inside the ground as the gates were unlocked, and many people took the chance to wander onto the terraces and of course the pitch, which I did and dreamt of taking a penalty into the Blackburn End to win the match the next Friday, And it truly was absolutely freezing cold.
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The headline in the paper said “Rovers Cup Dreams are Shattered”, which was incorrect. Nobody at Ewood really ever dreamed we were going to win the FA cup. The dream had already been realized. I had started watching Rovers in the season we missed out on promotion by goal difference, 1981 I think, and by that time Rovers had not been in the top flight of English football in my lifetime, going back to 1966. The real dream of all Blackburn Rovers supporters was to be playing the big teams every week, and in the absence of that-a head to head in a cup match would have to do. It didn't get much better than a home game against United, and most of us knew deep down that we were not really going to have much chance of beating them. So we all rolled up, best part of 20,000 home fans, for a glimpse of what we had dared to dream of all season long, as the promotion campaign gathered momentum, now more in hope than expectation.
The coverage in the media for a Rovers game, was in my experience unprecedented. Articles in the Daily Mail, live TV coverage on the BBC, interviews with the tea lady...I absolutely loved it. My team, which felt like it didn't exist outside of terraced streets, crap pies and freezing nights on crumbling terraces fending of rival supporters bricks, were in the spotlight.
So as I boarded the Cliff Owen coach at the Flat Iron around 5.30pm that Friday night, I recall thinking that this was all slightly unreal, and as rival supporters sat on the coach, trading insults with each other, I considered for the first time that we wouldn't get promoted.
The game came and went, we lost 0-2 as you probably know. I recall the glow of mini TV studio lights coming from a hastily erected hutch in the no mans land between the Darwen End and the Riverside, where Jimmy Hill could peer out and cast his judgments on Hovis FC. I recall lots of sporadic fighting, in the Blackburn End after Strachan’s opener, and seeing lots more all round the ground during the match too. I clearly recall Strachan ballooning a penalty into the United end, and thinking we had a chance to get a replay. I recall climbing up the fence at the bottom of the BBE near the end, and running on the pitch after the whistle had gone, and beckoning the whole Darwen End to come and take me on. I was briefly on TV, for about two seconds, as the camera near the dugouts caught me saying, "Bring on City!" And ultimately, I recall thinking that it was all a bit of a let down. We were never in the game, and had only one real chance to score, when Garner came on and ballooned one over the bar late on.
So the dream had come and gone, and Rovers players and fans alike woke up on Saturday morning to face the prospect of playing games against Barnsley, Grimsby, Cardiff and Hull.
Without spoiling the ending to the season, we never really got over the United game in my opinion, our football never matched the quality of earlier games, and seemed like the zenith of our season. It was all, well nearly all, downhill from here on in.
Anyway, the FA Cup run (if three games constitutes a run) was over so back to more the more pressing issue of the annual fight against promotion. After the Fulham victory, the thought was that we were back on track. February 23rd saw us match up to Oxford United for the fifth time this season, and not surprisingly the game provided poor fodder for the returning Match Of The Day TV cameras. Oxford had slipped up of late, two straight 1-0 defeats at Palace and Fulham, so were looking at the chance to strike back at top of the table Rovers, with these new fangled three points for a win system.
The Bald Eagles team scored early, and it took Rovers an hour to come to terms with them and force an equaliser-Quinn again with the notch. The Guardian report mentions the quality of Simon Barker, who was playing well at this time and running most things in our midfield. "He was erratic, and consequently the source of much additional frustration" wrote Erlend Clouston. What he meant was the Riverside gave him dogs abuse.
Our time at the top of Division two was coming to an end...with a massive game next week at home to Manchester City
The next game at home to Manchester City I decided to make a day of it. I had a City supporting friend, who shall remain nameless, (Beefy). Me, Beefy and Richard Houghton, who was/is an Everton fan went to Blackburn on the bus, the 124 from Chorley. I may be wrong, but I think Alexei Sayle mentions the 124 from Chorley to Blackburn in his book- 50 Worst Bus Journeys In The World, along side the number 38 from Trinity New Mexico to a safe bunker 200 yards away and the Night Service for Honkeys from Compton to South Central.
Arriving at the Bouley in good spirits, we headed to the Wine lodge, for the same, as being from Chorley we had high standards in our drinking holes. Chorley wine lodge was an all time classic, a proper sawdust and spit joint, with a railed queuing system on which most banks and post offices now employ.
Anyway, several pints later, we walked the seemingly 49 miles to Ewood on our reverse beer scooters, and got to the ground in good time-it was still only 2pm. So fat Beefy went to the Darwen End, and me and Rich into the Blackburn End, and stood on an empty terrace , @#/?, for an hour as it filled up. I even climbed on the crash barrier at one point, and began a one man abuse song of the one man away end at Beefy. But a steward told me off and made me get down.
Before kick off, we were top of the table, with City just behind us; a win for them would take them top.
By the time the match kicked off, the ground was absolutely packed, more so than the United cup game a week or two ago, it was seriously jammed in the Blackburn End and all the ground looked the same. Throughout the game, there were many sporadic outbreaks of violence on the terraces, in the BBE, the Riverside and even the enclosure. It was pretty mad even by the standards of the mid 80s, and the game was held up by the ref at one point.
Can't remember too much detail of the game, except for Kinseys lucky goal, from a deflection or rebound into the BBE, which prompted the biggest round of fighting all afternoon. Massive surges of Rovers fans lurched forward to the bottom right as you look down, trying to get their hands on City interlopers in big sheepskin coats and Adidas Sambas, Rom, and Forest Hills.
After the game, the Moss Side gangs came piling down Bolton Road looking for more aggro, and we got chased into Ewood WMC and got away without a stabbing or similar.
Brighton away. Lost 3-1. No report and no recollection of the game.
Oldham away. No report but I remember it being poor, cold and very disheartening. Usual slag heap style open away end.
League match 31 of the season was a home game against Birmingham City. City were major promotion rivals, and with recent defeats Rovers were desperate for the three points to bring some impetus back into the promotion push, whilst depriving Birmingham of points too (The very model of a `Six Pointer`). Over 10,000 odd came to Ewood to see a patchy performance from the home team, and indeed we went behind early in the first half. Scapegoat John Lowey, who had been a target for the Riverside boo boys most of the season equalised before half time, and Simon Barker grabbing the winner in the 2nd. The three points kept us second, but as it was only our second league win in 1985 things were getting very tight-and very nervy.
With ten games left, Rovers looked out of puff with performances full of nerves and doubt, which were not helped by the Ewood crowd getting on the back of the players each time a pass went astray or a shot was missed. The clouds were gathering over the ground and the atmosphere was gloomy. A trip to Gay Meadow on 23rd March did nothing to lift any of this.
I didn't go, and seems like a wise move reading the report from the Sunday Mirror.
Things at Ewood were getting worse by the week, and the crowds had dwindled. Having had 22,000 on against Man City, only 7,100 bothered for the game against Notts County, which Rovers were desperate to win and get things going forward again. The report shows Garner had not scored for four months, which seems unbelievable now and had been benched on several occasions, which led to rumours of him wanting to leave the club. The Notts County game I recall was dreadful, with little quality from either side, but a Garner notch settled the spoils in favour of Rovers. Some familiar names on the away side, including Rachid Harkouk and Justin Fashanu.
The win put us forth, and the crucial Easter program against Leeds and Barnsley up next.
Easter Saturday 1985, just over thirty years ago (blimey I`ve wasted my life.) saw Rovers away at Leeds United. I secured the services of the Official Away travel coaches, and rolled up at Elland Road in good order. I was a little trepidatious of my first visit there, as the reputation was pretty well documented as being, well, unfriendly to say the least.
Some bits of Elland Road , even more so to this day seem a little incongruous with the rest-nowadays we see the huge East Stand, opposite the cameras dwarfing the smaller stands that surround it, which are merely terraces with seats stuck on. In 1985 the away fans were located were the new stand currently sits, but back then it was a ramshackle stand alone job, were the rest of the ground has seen re-development in the 70s but the club ran out money before completion, similar to Wolves and Chelsea. It looked a little like the last part of Deepdale before their recent upgrade. There were even giant concrete pillars left in isolation near the away terrace, which were supposed to be the start of the new stand, but were left unfinished as the cash dried up.
Having managed to avoid a kicking between coach and ground, via a rather daunting underpass, we stood on the caged terraces in half decent sunshine, and watch yet another tired and dispirited performance from Bobby Saxton`s men. The report mentions Millers late header, which I thought was in, being the highlight. It was. Another point in the bag we remained forth with Barnsley at home on Easter Monday.
Easter Monday brought Barnsley to town. A pleasant day as I recall, weather wise, but an atrocious performance by Rovers, particularly in front of goal meant another 90 minutes of goalless football, and giving us a point when 3 were desperately needed. Bloody Chris Thompson had a nightmare, missed a shed load of simple chances. We were now down to fifth in the league, and promotion looking unlikely
I made my one and only visit to Cardiff’s Ninian Park to go and watch Rovers play. In April 2009 Cardiff played their last league game at their old home. A stadium which has held many internationals, European ties and even a visit from The Pope John Paul II finally goes the way of all flesh as Cardiff moved into a new 25,000 all seater stadium next season, and I am sure they will be very happy there, in the sanitised, all-seated, catered for environment. The BBC have a potted history of the old ground here.
My and Johnny Barrow went down on the train from Chorley, changing at Preston and Crewe. As we got about twenty miles from Cardiff, we got talking to an old local guy, who advised us to go and get stuck into the Brains SA in the pub when we got there, which certainly was the plan. However, when we got off the train at Cardiff, we were met by a group of five Police officers, with batons and snarling dogs. Not sure what the local Bobbies were expecting to arrive from the North West, but I think they had catered for a worst case scenario, and not two college students dressed like Morrisey and Michael Foot.
The coppers took us into their van, whisked us away from the Soul Crews reception committee and took us straight to Ninian Park for our own safety. They then chucked us out at the locked gate of the away end. It was half past twelve.
So we managed to avoid death by misadventure till the gates opened at 2pm, when we were joined by around two hunder-ish other travellers following the Rovers.
The weather was awful, driving rain and wind blowing into our faces stood on the open uncovered terrace. Once again we were awful. Terry Gennoe kept us in it time and time again, as he had done many times this season. Then two Cardiff defenders both leave a cross to each other, and Windy Millers sticks it in. In the second half Cardiff equalised but on the hour their keeper dropped a cross, and Simon Garner lashed the ball into the net.
The second Rovers goal prompted some unrest from the locals, indeed a hail of house bricks and rocks came flying over the back wall above us, landing on empty terraces next to the huddled East Lancs crowd. Saved by our own apathy.
So we were back on track with three points, and moved back into forth spot in the second division table with six games left.
Middlesbrough at home-a win could see us back in the top three and on course for promotion again. On a fairly pleasant afternoon weather wise, another jittery Rovers performance unfolded in front of an ever decreasing Ewood crowd, who did their best to urge the players on. But anyone of a certain age will remember the edginess of the fans in those days, quick to criticise and seemingly always on the look out for a scapegoat. Chris Thompson, a modestly skilled journeyman style footballer, had enjoyed a decent first half of the season, but had found the goals increasingly hard to come by of late, and was coming under some major abuse from the Riversiders.
But it was Garner who eased early nerves with a good goal in seven minutes, but then Rovers eased off and Boro pressed us into our own half. Future Celtic boss Tony Mowbray went close, and once again Geno made a couple of excellent saves to ke